Five days ago in this blog, I opened the story of the darkest time of my life. I intended to keep telling that story here: how I built the strength to report my pastor, how I survived a bewildering and frightening church investigation, and what I learned about human nature afterward (it wasn’t pretty.) I thought I was ready to tell this story. But as I began sketching out my next post, my mood got darker and darker. Finally, lying in bed yesterday at five in the afternoon, wondering why bother with anything, I had a moment of clarity: “Stop writing.”
At least, stop writing that story.
Self-care may be the most important part of healing from abuse. But to many survivors, self-care is a foreign concept. Abuse leaves us uncertain of our own worth — or worse, certain of our worthlessness. We trusted our abusers, and they turned us into tools to gratify their own pleasure, rage, or ego. If they failed to see our worth, how can we? To make matters worse, many of us lived with abuse long before our clergy offenders laid eyes on us. That’s what made us vulnerable in the first place. (I am lucky in that respect; my family was imperfect but loving, and they remain my greatest source of strength and hope.)
For many survivors, just recognizing that we deserve love is a miracle. Even when we begin to see our value, self-care can be a struggle. This creates a vicious cycle. We can’t heal unless we take care of ourselves, and we can’t take care of ourselves until we feel worthy of care, and we don’t feel worthy until we begin to heal. How do we break this chain? Maybe by asking not “What do I deserve?,” but instead, “What do I need?”
Curled up fetal in my bed, what did I need? Clarity, most of all — and whether I “deserved” it or not, I got it. Out of the fog of depression, I heard my own clear voice: “What patterns of thought and action brought this on? Name them and change them.” So I did. Here are the patterns I decided to change.
* I’m breaking my exercise slump with new goals that are challenging but doable.
* Instead of obsessively turning to computer solitaire to soothe my anxiety, I’ve started knitting again. Even better, I’m knitting for people I love.
* I’m spending more time in my garden. Even ten minutes a day outdoors makes a difference.
* I’m looking at a recently broken friendship from a different angle. I was a good friend to “Diana,” and there’s plenty of evidence I’m likable even if she has walked away. I’m allowing myself to grieve, and I’m not letting the broken friendship define me.
And most important…
* I’m not writing about those terrible months until I’m ready. I was trying to process painful material in a public forum; I need respite from that process. Do I “deserve” a break? Who cares? I’m taking it.
What do you need? Not “what do you think you deserve,” but what do you need? If your big needs seem out of reach, what small kindness can you do for yourself today?
Finally, a request. If prayer is available to you, please pray for other survivors. If you know another survivor of clergy sexual abuse, pray for her or him. If you don’t, then pray for all the survivors you don’t know. Together, we are healing from one of the most isolating wounds in human experience. If you are able, please pray for your sister and brother survivors. And if you are able, feel the community praying for you.